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Bike footrests not the same as illegal metal knuckles, California Supreme Court decides

February 8, 2010 |  1:12 pm

Despite police contentions that gang members deploy bicycle footrests as illegal metal knuckles, state law does not prohibit people from carrying footrests, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday, overturning two lower courts.

Los Angeles police stopped bicycle rider David V., 14, one afternoon in August 2007 because he was not wearing a helmet. The office found a metal bike footrest – a cylinder about 4 ½ inches long and about 1 ½ inches in diameter -- in the boy's pocket and determined it did not fit anywhere on the boy's bike.

David was charged with illegal possession of metal knuckles. A juvenile court judge, determining that David carried the device as a weapon, sustained the petition, and an appeals court agreed.

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown's office, arguing in favor of prosecution, had likened footrests to clutch purses, which the fashion industry says are "worn in the hand," his office said.

The state high court dispatched its verdict in a brief, 10-page ruling, determining that footrests were not "worn on the hand" and that David had not violated the law by carrying one.

"Metal knuckles of the usual sort, which are fitted to the hand, generally with holes for the fingers, are 'worn ... in or on the hand,'" the court said, quoting the state Penal Code. "But a metal cylinder like the footrest in this case is not, in ordinary usage, said to be 'worn' when held in the hand."

Even if common terminology in the fashion industry considers a purse to be worn, wrote Justice Carol A. Corrigan, "it is unlikely that the Legislature would have considered it in connection with a weapons statute."

-- Maura Dolan